book spine poetry

To help make social distancing and quarantine feel a little less isolating during this COVID-19 mess, my friend Lynn has been coming up with weekly #AparTogether challenges. This week, in honor of National Poetry Month, each challenge is poetic! Today’s challenge was to “write” a book spine poem. Choose a few books from your shelf, arrange the titles and voila–instant poem! I was so happy with mine that I decided to share it here.

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And because it may be difficult to read the titles on the photo, here is “my” poem.

On the road
this day,
their eyes were watching God.
Open
voices in the air,
the bell and the blackbird,
all the pretty horses.
Imagination in place
a wrinkle in time.
Sorry for your troubles.

evermore

I didn’t fit
I know that now
inside your wire cage

your wooden box
a whitewashed tomb
a grave of early death

too strong

too fierce

too naked

too tender

too bold

too fiery

too woman

too soft

too

too

too

full of

smoke

and

flames

and

water

and

wind

but you can’t cage a Girl
who has freedom in Her soul and
fire burning up Her veins

and wild things are only
broken
never tamed

so go ahead
scrape Me out of your safe little world
keep it pretty and clean

for I am free now to rise
like a raven in the night
touching the clouds and the

hand of god
upon whose
winds I take wing

and your cage and your tomb
lay mangled and
empty

evermore

evermore

evermore

©stephanie pepper, 2020

XIX

For Brian, on the occasion of being married for nineteen years. I love you best, mon coeur.

I do not pluck the petals
from a daisy to know,
for what can a wildflower
tell me of love?

Oh, tender flower…

Can your petals tell me more than his hand in the dark,
drawing the lines of my face?
More than his mouth pressed to my skin
where the blackbird flies from my shoulder?

Can you tell me the answer
when my eyes ask the question,
“do you love me?”
Oh! How could you know?

You bloom in the sun for only a season;
stand in the rain from summer ‘til frost.
But the sun has arisen to shine on this love
all these days–six thousand nine hundred thirty-nine.

And what a storm brings to bear with the
fiercest of winds that could flatten your golden field,
leaves this love rising strong from the soil of the
earth, rooted deep in the ground.

No, you can’t know,
precious flower, what
only he knows as he
cradles my heart in his hands.

So at the day’s end, sweet little daisy,
hold onto your petals so tight.
For somewhere there’s a girl who simply must ask
“does he love me?” and only you know.

But for me, there’s no doubt, no
question you can answer.
My eyes, they ask;
his hold what I know…

…he loves me…
…he loves me…

…he loves me

©️stephanie pepper, 2020

You carry your jar of fireflies

You carry your jar of fireflies

into the darkest night,

trusting in them as your only guide

as the midnight settles in.

But the thing about fireflies, trapped in a jar–
they never last the night. So
open the lid and shake them
free and follow the light in your
soul instead–

the light only darkness reveals.

©stephanie pepper, 2020

fistful

I cut a fistful of daisies from
the hillside this morning, and
carried them home to you.
From under the sink I
pulled an old jar and
filled it with water from the tap;
then gathered the stems and
let them fall wide
to cover the mouth of the jar.
I carried them to you, there where
you sat, in a chair by the
window, not seeing the light.
You smiled, and said thank you,
then looked to the floor.
Not even the sunlight that
dropped from the petals
brightened your eyes at all. 

©️stephanie pepper, 2020

Nice Mill Dam, October 2019

How I wish you could see the
river this morning,
all swollen and fat,
running fast from the first real rain
of autumn after the long
drought of summer.

The riffles have turned to
rapids; the water foams white
as it tumbles over the rocky
shelf in the shallows
near the bank where
I sometimes sit to pray.

On the weir, I sit in the middle of the river,
and see that the water, surely,
rolled over this rocky dam in the night,
washing up sticks and leaves and mud,
now caught in the ledges,
lodged in the cracks.

And I think how you would love
the river, the way I love the river, this sanctuary
on earth. How, in the presence of the
river, eternity breaks through time, breaks
through space, and flows
into the soul, and into the heart, and stands.

With the grey sky, it is clear, now,
that autumn has fallen at last, and
fallen, truly, without you. But I
remember love, and how
once you have loved,
you always love.

So I release you to this
river, to be carried far from me; for
I cannot hold you here, cannot keep
you here with me. So go now,
and be, and live freely, in
hope, the life given.

©stephanie pepper, 2019

Swallowing sorrow

This ancient darkness twists
its way into my mind again, and
into my soul, like knotted
thorns braided around

barbed wire–their sharpness pricking,
drawing blood; my anguished
heart seeping and my mind
a tangled nest of brittle, dying vines.

The morning sun caressing my face
doesn’t scare the darkness.
My mind wraps and curls
around itself, swaddling melancholy

with an ache of tears. This sadness,
older than time, reaches
back to the beginnings,
stretches forward into eternity.

The warm mug
cradled in my hands
underscores the chill in my
heart. Lifting the cup

to my lips, steam kisses my
face with damp heat, the spicy-citrus
bergamot fills my nose
and I stare down into my own unknown

eyes reflected in the tea.
Tears drop from those eyes into the
mug, mingling with the tea, and I swallow my
salty sorrow with each sip.

Cling tight, he said, to the
sorrow that’s been given, and insist
that beauty still blooms
radiant from ashes.

©stephanie pepper, 2019

Rituals

A mourning dove sits alone
on a wire stretched between
poles–one in my yard and
the other in the neighbor’s
yard two doors down.

I’m watching from the porch below,
and as I watch I imagine–though
it’s impossible for me to know–
that this is the same bird I see
every morning, perched in that
same spot on the wire,
preening his feathers, lifting
each wing and digging with his beak.

And I think, does he wonder about
me? Watching me, does he imagine
that I am the same creature that comes
every morning to perch on the same yellow chair,
drink tea from the same sugar skull
mug? The same bare feet propped on the same
railing with an open book resting in my lap?
Though really, it’s impossible for him to know.

©stephanie pepper, 2019

Etched

A leaf lets go and dying,
falls to the ground; falls
into the fresh concrete of a
new sidewalk, still staked
and taped off. Immortalized
now, the spidery veins
streak out from the midrib,
etched boldly, precisely, and
yet, a shadowed representation
of its existence.
Life is losing and
finding, and losing again,
hoping, in the end, to find.
Living is a thousand little
deaths; and a thousand and
one resurrections.
And the lines of all my
deaths are etched into my
skin, absorbed into my soul.
But isn’t that just it; we’re
all living to die? And in
dying, perhaps, living. 

© stephanie pepper, 2019

When the night is on its way to morning

Sometimes, when the night
is well on its way to morning,
I lie awake beside you. The
sheets are hot and twisted
beneath me, but you, soundly
asleep and softly snoring, know
none of this. I want to reach out
and brush your hand, the one that
rests so close to my knee—not to wake you—
but just to feel you; to borrow
your dreams. I turn, and shift the
pillows as silently as I can,
and though I’m careful not to
touch you, my rustling disturbs
you just enough, and you whisper
from your sleep, “I love you.”

The words fall like a blessing.

©️stephanie pepper, 2019